Monthly Archives: November 2017

Climbing Fuya Fuya – Ecuador

Along with Volcán Pasachoa, the other mountain that for some reason I desperately wanted to climb while living in Ecuador this year was Fuya Fuya.  It was actually for this reason that I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week – the Cascada de PegucheLaguna Cuicocha and the Día de los Difuntos were just bonuses 🙂

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find other people to climb 4,200m mountains, especially when it turns out that Otavalo is very quiet outside of the two main market days (Wednesday and Saturday) and very, very few tourists actually stay there (they tend to do day trips from Quito).  So in the end, I sprung for the whole taxi fare to take me to the trail-head and climbed on my own.

Hiking Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The route I took in climbing Fuya Fuya and exploring the surroundings

I started out early hoping that I could reach the top before the clouds obscured everything and the rain came, and after about 40 minutes in the taxi, reached the starting point at Laguna Caricocha –  one of the Mojanda Lakes

Mojanda Lakes - Otavalo - Ecuador

Weather looking pretty grim upon arrival at Mojanda Lakes

From there, I took a straight shot up a very steep hill, which turned out not to be the main trail after all.

Climbing Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

I went straight up the side of this

In fact, I was about 2/3 the way up to the top of Fuya Fuya (not the top of this first hill) before I managed to make my way across to the main trail.  And although I probably made things way harder for myself by bush-bashing through the páramo, it was all good – I was heading in the right general direction.  

As always, the views  were stunning.

Paramo scenery - Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

And were made even more special when I starting coming across wildflowers in the steep upper reaches of the climb.

Wildflowers and Paramo - Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Can you spot the perfect, snow-capped cone of Cotopaxi in the bottom image?

Fuya Fuya actually has two peaks, and I’d been told to make sure I took the right hand route (which is slightly lower) once I got to the junction.  This is because there is a tall rock that needs to be scaled if you take the left hand route.  I ended up hiking along the ridge to the left-hand side just to see, but the infamous rock was very visible and very obviously not doable without equipment (or a death wish).

Fuya Fuya highest of the peaks - Otavalo - Ecuador

The slightly higher peak of Fuya Fuya

So I backtracked and headed for the right hand peak, which itself had a smaller rock that needed to be scaled and which I admit gave me a brief pause.

Fuya Fuya slightly lower peak - Otavalo - Ecuador

Yes, you climb straight up to the top

But the views were totally worth it!

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The valley to the north and Laguna Caricocha from the top of Fuya Fuya. Visible in the image are Cotocatchi (left) and the snow-capped Cayambe (just to the right of the lake)

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The view to the east from Laguna Caricocha to the other peak of Fuya Fuya. Obscured in the photo (but visible in real life) are the snow-capped volcanoes of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi.

As you can see, the weather improved enormously while I was climbing and by the time I got to the top, it was absolutely incredible.  I pulled out another wonderful app I have called Peakfinder, and could see Cotocatchi, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi, with a glimpse of the Chimborazo volcano on the horizon.   All the snow-capped volcanoes were a little disguised by the background cloud, but their peaks were clearly visible when I first arrived.

It was so beautiful, and such a lovely day, that I ended up finding a rock to stretch out on and just stayed up here for a couple of hours admiring the view.   Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the top of Fuya Fuya.

Me relaxing on my rock on top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Eventually the wind picked up and the clouds started to come over, so I decided to make my way back down the other route.  Apparently this is actually the main route to the top – the one with the signs (well, sign) I’d read about on the internet.

I only saw one sign on the climb to Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

This whole hike is just spectacular páramo scenery.

Decending Fuya Fuya via main route - Otavalo - Ecuador

The descent was also incredibly steep, and, just like on Pasochoa, I ended up grabbing fistfuls of páramo grass to help me descend.  However, at some point I realised that the route I was taking looked like (and was as slippery as) a giant, grassy slippery dip…   And so yes, I actually decided to slide, rather than walk down 🙂

Descent from Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The descent from Fuya Fuya – exactly like a slippery dip!

I ended up with hiking pants and undies full of páramo, but I also managed to find $5 – undoubtedly dropped by someone else who had had the same idea!

Bonus find on Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

From there it was an easy hike back down the actual trail to the Mojanda Lakes.

Main trail climbing to Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

My original plan was to hike all the way around the Mojanda lakes as well, but given that I ended up spending so much time stretched out on the rock at the top of Fuya Fuya, I didn’t have time before my taxi returned to collect me.

I did, however, manage to do a quick hike along the road out to the base of Cerro Negro and the turnoff to Laguna Chiriacu before having to turn back.

Cerro Negro - Otavalo - Ecuador

Looking up at Cerro Negro – an alternate climb in this area

Overall, it was an incredible hike and I’m so grateful for the amazing weather I ended up having!  Definitely a highlight!

 

Recommendation:  If you like hiking, this is a great acclimatization climb that is not technical at all (well, except for that rock).  Especially if you have good weather!  In order to also hike the Mojanda Lakes after climbing Fuya Fuya, I would suggest you ask your taxi driver to pick you up at the end of the road near Laguna Huamicocha, rather than where he drops you off near Laguna Caricocha – that way you don’t have to back-track.

Cost:  I just used a taxi arranged by my hostel for USD$30.  He collected me at the hostel when I asked, and returned to collect me at Laguna Caricocha at the requested time for this price.

Time: To climb Fuya Fuya takes about 3 hours.  I spent about 6 hours out here and wished I’d stayed 8.

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I am now blogging for Guide to Greenland

Given my love-affair and obsession with Greenland, I’m very excited to be invited to blog for Guide to Greenland, one of the premier travel sites for this amazing country.

My first blog post is all about the Wildflowers of South Greenland – so head over there to check it out.  You might even be inspired to visit yourself!

Wildflowers of South Greenland - Narsarsuaq

The Flower Valley just outside of Narsarsuaq in South Greenland

I’m super, super excited about visiting Greenland again for several months in 2018, and look forward to blogging about my experiences both here and at Guide to Greenland!

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Hiking Laguna Cuicocha – Ecuador

Most people come to Otavalo for the enormous Saturday market.  They catch the bus up from Quito early in the morning or the night before, shop, and then catch the bus back, without ever stopping to explore the surroundings.  Which is a shame, because Otavalo is ringed by volcanoes and there is lots of great hiking to be done.   

One of the easiest hikes (if you can call doing anything between 3,100m and 3,500m easy) is the 14km circuit around the rim of the crater that contains Laguna Cuicocha.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like many people do this – I only came across one Ecuadorian family who had carted a portable BBQ and boxes of food (!!!) up to the highest point for a picnic, and a group of older North Americans who had also only hiked part of the way around (and the not-so-interesting part at that!).

Which is bizarre – because it is a beautiful hike!

I had managed to convince my Argentinean hostel room-mate to do the hike with me to share the cost of the taxi out there (one of the hardest parts about hiking in Ecuador is actually getting to the trail-head).  She was up for a 9am leave-the-hostel, but I convinced her it would be better to leave at 8am 🙂  We arrived at 8:40am to a beautifully still lake and almost perfect reflections. 

Perfect Reflections - Laguna Cuicocha

Top image – Volcán Cotocatchi is partially obscured by clouds. Laguna Cuicocha sits at the base of this impressive volcano.

I’ll never understand why people don’t want to start out as early as possible given the possibility of seeing something so amazing.

We then set off around the rim in an anti-clockwise direction.

The trail around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

Given it is an eroded crater rim, there are plenty of ups and a few downs, especially for the first 1/2 of the hike, but the trail is extremely obvious and very well cared for.

The trail around Laguna Cuicocha is very well maintained

There really isn’t too much to say about the hike itself – nothing spectacularly interesting happened along the way, nor were there any real challenges.  It was all just about the changing views of the lake.

Various views of Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

And the views to the surrounding volcanoes, particularly Volcán Imbabura, and Volcán Cotocatchi, which towers above it.

Volcanos surrounding Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

Volcán Imabura (top) and Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom) from the the rim of Laguna Cuicocha

The name Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in the Quechua language, possibly named after the shape of its largest island – Teodoro Wolf (the smaller island is called Yerovi).

Perhaps the reason for the name - Laguna Cuicocha

And although I didn’t see any guinea pigs, there were the last vestiges of what must have been an amazing bloom of flowers and orchids about a month before!

The last of the flowers - Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

All up, I took about 4.5 hours to walk around the rim, but that was with a couple of long stops to chat, and taking lots of photos.  For me, the first half (going anti-clockwise) was the most rewarding, as the last third basically tracked along a road.  Though I admit there were great views across to Volcán Cotocatchi.   

Volcán Cotocatchi seen from across Laguna Cotocatchi - Ecuador

Volcán Cotocatchi peeking out from the clouds

I didn’t end up calling into the tourist enclave at the end, but my understanding is that the boat trips on the lake only cost a few dollars if you don’t want to hike.  However, you would be missing out on the best part, as you really need the height that the rim provides to have the most spectacular vistas.

 

Time:  about 4.5 hours

Cost:  USD$12.50 each (USD$25 for the taxi).  I was lazy and just got the taxi provided by the hostel, given I could split the cost.

 

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Día de los Difuntos – Otavalo – Ecuador

The 2nd November is “All Souls Day” in the Catholic calendar, the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico, the “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Deceased) in Ecuador.  I didn’t realise it when making my plans, but Otavalo turns out to be one of the best places in all of Ecuador to experience this important day.

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

The tradition (particularly strong amongst the more indigenous peoples of Ecuador) is for families to visit the cemetery, taking food and drink for a picnic on the grave of the deceased.  Yes, you read that correctly, ON the grave of the deceased.   The idea is that the souls of the dead visit on this day, and families need to provide plenty of food so that these souls can gain strength to continue on their journey to the after life.

I asked at the hostel when the celebrations started, and they advised me that between 11am and 1pm would be the best time to see what was going on.  So off I set in the blazing sun to the indigenous cemetery.  It was not hard to find – really, you just had to follow the crowds!

Follow the crowds - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Lining both sides of both access streets were people selling flowers, wreaths, fruit (especially sweet pepinos), and food.  Lots and lots of food – the most popular seemingly being the fish Tilápia, fried, of course.

Everything the deceased could need - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Fresh flowers and wreaths (top), food and fruit (middle – sweet pepinos are the greenish things), hornado (roast pork) and tilápia (bottom)

And everywhere you looked, there were women selling the most traditional of treats for this particular occasion – Guaguas de Pan (bread babies). 

Guaguas de Pan - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

These are sweet breads shaped like babies (guagua or wawa means “baby” in Quechua) that have been wrapped in swaddling (note, they don’t have arms), and decorated with colourful icing.   They can be plain or filled with a fruit jam, and in some parts of Ecuador, they can also take the shape of an animal.

Food and flowers purchased, the families then entered the cemetery to find the plot of their deceased.  And what a spectacle it was!

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was absolutely packed!  And full of action!  From people tending the graves

Tending the grave - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to musicians playing for the deceased

Praying and music - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to everybody laying out a picnic on top of the graves.

Picnics on the graves - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was incredibly difficult to move and find a place to stand to take it all in.  It was just amazing to see such a healthy attitude towards death!

Healthier attitude towards death - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

After about 2 hours of wandering around, I left with a touch of sunstroke (why I didn’t put my hat on, I don’t know!) but returned at 2:30pm to see how the day had unfolded.  Wow!  What a difference!  There was almost nobody left at the cemetery!

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

3 hours later and the cemetery was almost deserted!

It was a great opportunity though to wander around admiring the freshly-tended graves and marveling at the bootprints that trampled the dirt mounds.  I felt really self-conscious walking all over the graves, but it is what everybody did and nobody blinked an eye.  

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

I was also surprised at the lack of rubbish left behind in the wake of so many people and so much food!  Very a-typical for such a large gathering in general, and for Latin America in particular.

From the cemetery I headed back into town for a very late lunch and decided I had to go the full traditional spread.   So fried TilápiaGuaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada – a thick, sweet, drink made with purple (or black) corn, spices and berries.  Yum!

lunch - Tilápia, Guaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada

The Día de los Difuntos really was quite a sight and if you happen to be in Ecuador on November 2, I’d encourage you to definitely experience it.

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Cascada de Peguche – Otavalo – Ecuador

I finally managed to extract myself from Quito after 3 months of living there and becoming very comfortable indeed!  Given that I hadn’t done much hiking for quite a while, I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week to do at least 2 of the hikes around that area – the Laguna de Cuicocha and Volcán Fuya Fuya.

It turns out that Kryštof, a Czech guy I’d met in Quito several weeks earlier, was also in Otavalo, so we caught up for drinks and then managed to go for an afternoon hike together the next day.   

We caught the local bus (eventually – it was quite a wait) out to the trail that led to the Cascada de Peguche – one of the key attractions that is close to Otavalo

Hiking to Cascada de Peguche

It was a lovely short walk through the trees to reach the campground, where the idea of these pyramidal tent platforms really grabbed me 🙂  I can imagine pitching my tent on top of one, and they remind me of something out of the X-Files!

Campsite - Cascada de Peguche

Then down to the waterfall itself.  It is about 20m high and in a really beautiful spot – so definitely worth a visit if you have a spare hour or two.

Cascada de Peguche

From there our plan was to walk over to Parque Cóndor – which looked do-able according to the ever trusty Maps.Me.  But first we explored the hanging bridge and the Inca Pool.  This latter is theoretically a hot spring, but the finger test quickly dissipated any ideas we may have had about going in for a dip – it was not warm at all!

Hanging bridge and Inca Pool - Cascada de Peguche

Heading up the trail that climbed to the top of the waterfall, it seemed like it would continue in the direction we wanted to go.   And it did … kind of.

Kryštof leading the scramble up the cliff-face

It was a bit of a dodgy, almost vertical scramble, but we made it eventually and strolled along a very rural road on the way towards the park.

Hiking from Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor

This is a really cool little hike that would have fantastic views of Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi if it were completely clear.  

Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi ' Cascada de Peguche

Volcán Imbabura (top) Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom)

We figured by this point that we were probably too late for the cóndors, so went and checked out the viewpoint at La Lechera instead (sunset would be incredible from here).  We came across this little old lady herding her cows and pigs (I couldn’t understand a word she said – I maintain she was speaking in Quechua), and then headed back down into Otavalo for dinner.  

Hiking from Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor

Thank you for an awesome afternoon Kryštof!  

Kryštof and I - Cascada de Peguche

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